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Tuesday 28 June 2022

Update: Partnership working in England

By Jon Restell

Audience listening at union meeting

Strong partnerships between unions, employers and government are essential to resolve the workforce issues in the NHS. Social Partnership Forums aim to establish these partnerships and ensure that staff and their representatives have a say on the policies that impact them the most.

Last week I represented MiP members at the national Social Partnership Forum, which brings together unions, the NHS and government to consider how NHS policy impacts the workforce. The Forum is chaired by Health Minister Edward Argar.

Below is a summary of the main points discussed at the meeting.

CCG staff

The transfer of approximately 26,000 staff to the new Integrated Care Boards will begin on 1 July. In the last few months, many senior staff have been left in a state of uncertainty about their own positions. I raised this with the minister, whose officials confirmed after the meeting that redundancy business cases will not need to go to the department or Treasury for sign off, one of MiP’s key concerns.

Workforce planning

Navina Evans, CEO of Health Education England, briefed the forum on the upcoming workforce planning framework. Several points stood out:

  • While there is a wrong way and a right way to introduce them, everyone needs to talk more constructively about new roles in healthcare.
  • The NHS should do more with apprenticeships.
  • The support workforce, both in clinical areas and in infrastructure, matters hugely and needs the same care as the registered clinical workforce – care it does not get now.

Covid recovery

NHS England announced plans to boost workforce supply and retention as the NHS experiences the largest waiting lists since it began. Retention is key, with the top reasons for staff leaving including work-life balance, bringing forward retirement, and pay and reward. While action on all aspects of employee experience will help, the unions argue strongly that a meaningful pay award is the key retention measure this year as inflation heads into double figures.

Partnership agreement

We renewed our vows on partnership working with an update of the national agreement. This will be published shortly. Partnership working between unions, employers and government at this level is pretty unique in the public sector in England, and it was vital in the pandemic. Perhaps unexpectedly it has survived and even thrived under the Coalition government and now under the Conservatives. It allows us constructively both to surface sharp differences and to find common ground.

We will need both capacities in the coming year.

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